Let’s start with booking a flight to visit your family or a vacation getaway. Some consumers prefer to reserve flights as early in advance as possible, because so many people make reservations at the same time of year. However, booking early does not always result in the best airfare bargain.
Seasoned bargain-hunting travelers check availability and prices online over a few consecutive, days or wait until a week or two before booking their flights. You also can check by visiting hotel and airline websites to see what they have to offer, and whether it would be cheaper to book your departure for a weekday instead of a weekend.
If you are taking a plane, ask about fees. Some airlines charge fees for carry-on items as well as checked bags, but others do not. Airline fee structures vary widely so it pays to look beyond the cost of a flight itself.
It might seem that air travelers don’t have much room to negotiate prices, however, if you are willing to endure a stopover or two, you can reduce the cost of your airfare. Nonstop flights are in demand and therefore, more costly.
Hotels and resorts may have their own extra fees, including hidden, daily charges that are not always disclosed in an advertised price. These “resort fees” may run from $3.00 to $60 a night but are usually in the $25 range. They can cover a number of different amenities, some that you might not want or use, such as internet access, a gym, a safe in your room, parking, spa or breakfast buffet.
Ask detailed questions about any fees before making your reservation. Connecticut BBB offers a smart traveling tips checklist to help you save money and protect yourself from fraud during a holiday visit or vacation:
Check your insurance – With non-refundable tickets, steep cancellation fees, emergency medical expenses or damaging a rented car, travel insurance offers peace of mind.
This does not necessarily mean you will have to purchase an additional policy. Check your own insurance policy to see what is and is not covered, such as theft, loss or damage of luggage and loss of other belongings. Make sure you clearly understand any exclusions or limitations.
Tell the bank – Credit cards are still the safest way to pay. Contact your credit card company and the bank that issued it to let them know when you are leaving and returning, and where you will make any stopovers. This will prevent having transactions rejected for suspected fraud. This advanced notice lets lenders know that you will be making purchases elsewhere, outside of your typical spending pattern for a given time period.
Watch out for ATM “skimmers” – These are devices placed by criminals over ATM card reader slots. These skimmers read and then transmit your card information to a hacker nearby, and these setups often include placement of a pinhole camera to record your PIN number as you enter it. Make sure card slot reader covers fit snugly and aren’t crooked, and remember to cover the PIN pad even if there is nobody standing nearby.
Ask about discounts/upgrades – Don’t be shy about letting the hotel, restaurant staff and car rental company know that you are a member of the military, or an AARP member, or have a AAA or other discount or loyalty card. Even if you don’t fall into any of these categories, sometimes you can get a free upgraded car or room just by asking.
Be choosy about consumer reviews - Word of mouth is the traditional way of telling friends, family and colleagues about a good or bad experience. The problem with many online reviews is that they are usually anonymous, and that in some cases the people writing them have a vested interest, whether it is trashing a competitor or stacking a site with glowing reviews. The truth lies somewhere in between. Look to see whether the reviewer used common language or if the review appears to be written like a paid marketing testimonial. Check for any patterns of poor customer service, cleanliness, quality of food, billing and other services.
You will find additional holiday and travel tips at bbb.org/connecticut.
Howard Schwartz - CT Better Business Bureau